Where you live can make the difference between life and death

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Men in Dorset live 10 years longer, on average, than men in Glasgow, says the ONS. Women live eight years longer.

Men in Dorset live 10 years longer, on average, than men in Glasgow, says the ONS. Women live eight years longer.

But if places can damage health, they can also protect it. The reason people who live in one part of the country live longer and healthier lives than in other parts is influenced by genes, the environment and the behaviour of populations.

Here are some of the leading theories that could explain why moving house might extend your life.

Weather

Several health studies have linked cold winters and high rainfall with high death rates from heart disease. Leaden skies and damp conditions are also linked with increased rates of depression. The cold has been blamed for higher rates of stillbirths and infant mortality, strokes and pneumonia, but not of cancer. The heart disease map closely follows the weather map for the UK; the worse the weather the higher the death rate.

Water

Hard water is found in the South and East of the country, where the principal rock is limestone, and soft water in the North and West, where the rock is millstone grit. Soft water has consistently been linked with high rates of heart disease. Trace elements in water such as nickel, cadmium, mercury and lead are also considered hazardous in excess, although harmful effects have yet to be shown. High concentrations of aluminium in water have been suggested to explain variations in Alzheimer's disease, but the link is disputed.

Radiation

Background radiation (the level we are naturally exposed to) varies around the country and may play a part in some diseases. It is lower in the South and East and higher in the North and West. Doses of radiation that are above the limits deemed acceptable in the nuclear industry are emitted as radon gas by the granite rocks of Devon and Cornwall. Radon seeping into houses in the UK is estimated to cause one in 20 cases of lung cancer.

Pollution

The great London smogs of the past ­ the most infamous, between 6 and 10 December 1952 was believed to have claimed 4,000 lives ­ were eliminated with the ban on burning coal. But as one cause of atmospheric pollution has gone, another has taken its place. Petro-chemical pollution caused by exhausts from vehicles may be partly responsible for the higher death rates from respiratory illness in London and allergic reactions such as asthma attacks.

Blood group

There is strong evidence that people with blood group A (46 per cent of the population) have greater immunity to disease than those with blood group O (44 per cent). People with group O blood are commoner in the North and West of the country and those with group A are commoner in the South and East.

Genetics

In addition to blood group, there may be other genetic influences that make some populations more susceptible to certain illnesses. The ONS report says: "It is possible that the distribution of ancestral populations based on different origins and modes of settlement still influences spatial patterns of health and disease today, despite blurring by centuries of migration and inter-marriage."

Smoking and diet

People smoke more heavily in the North and East and in Scotland. Smoking is also more common in lower social classes, which increases the impact of deprivation on ill health. And although diet is crucial to health, that varies little across Britain in terms of the balance of fat, cereals and meat. What people eat is thought to have less impact on the variations in health than smoking.

Access to services

If you fall ill, clearly the treatment you will receive depends on the quality of the medical services in your area. In the National Health Service, attempts have been made since 1971 to standardise the provision of resources around the country to match the need. But in the past decade, private services have expanded more rapidly in the prosperous South-east than elsewhere. That means that the richest area of the United Kingdom enjoys access to the best health services.

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